Growing up, I had every opportunity handed to me on a silver platter. Every luxury a girl could want was given to me with the fluid movements of my father’s pen. Horse riding lessons, the latest fashions, exquisite jewelry, not one thing was denied me - except Richard Crowley.
At the church we attended there were many levels of society’s divisions, rich and poor, black and white, together, we nestled in the pews each week, anxious to hear the Word of the Lord.
Richard’s tall, slender frame never failed to stand out during our worship services. His father had died when he was barely nine years old, and he and his mother had learned to make due on her wage as a cashier at the local grocery mart, and his from a friendly dairy farmer.
I thought Richard was the handsomest boy I’d ever laid eyes on, and his baritone voice could have easily matched with the likes of Frank Sinatra. His eyes were a golden brown, and they mesmerized me each time they glanced my way. He was 18, I was 16 and smitten, proud to say that the feelings were mutual. One day after church, he asked if I’d like to go steady.
“No daughter of mine is going to date some poor white boy.” My father announced that afternoon over lunch. “The only times I’ve ever seen that Crowley boy in public, he’s been an odorous, filthy mess! I can’t have you out galavanting with the likes of him. He’s unkempt, uneducated, and poor.”
The last sentence chopped through my ear drums. “You know very well why he’s like that, Papa. He works very hard on that farm just so he and his mama can eat.” I boldly stared at him, meeting his eyes.
Mother pushed her food around her plate, uneasy.
“If I so much as see that boy even glance your way, Jessica, I will see to it that he doesn’t have eyes to see you.”
So much for listening to the preacher, Papa. I threw the words at him with my eyes, and stomped away to the safety of my bedroom.
“What’d your pa say?” Richard caught up to me on my way to school.
“He said no.” The words were no sooner out of my mouth, when Richard stopped in his tracks.
His anger was aimed straight ahead of him. My father stood, hands in his pockets, on the steps of the bank, his eyes steady in our direction.
Richard pulled off his hat and strode straight towards where my father stood.
“Sir, let me tell you something. I may not have all the money in the world, and I may not be the most well-learned, but I’ve got something that’s worth more than all them shiny dollars in your bank account.” He pointed his finger in the direction of the church.
“When I was five years old, my daddy walked me up that aisle and told me how to get the most valuable thing I’ll ever get in my entire life - my salvation. If that’s not good enough for you, then you’d better re-evaluate where you put your worth, ‘cause it ain’t in them fancy clothes you wear, and it ain’t in those servants you have caterin’ to your every need. It’s right here.” Richard pointed at his heart, then at me. “And right there.”
He continued, “I care for your daughter more than my own self, and I know she returns those feelin’s. If you can’t see to look past a man’s pocketbook to see what’d be good for your own kin, that’s your problem.”
My father’s jaw dropped, dumbstruck. He pressed his finger into Richard’s chest. “Listen here, boy, I have never had anyone speak to me in that manner in my entire life, let alone someone of your... status. I’ve got to say, that took guts. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll let you court my daughter, but if you so much as touch a hair on her head, or besmirch her name in any way, I’ll let my hounds out on you. And that’s a promise.”
“Looks like you’ve got a deal, sir.” Richard smiled and extended his hand to my father. The smile faded when my father, ignoring Richard’s extended hand, turned on his heel and walked away.
“Jessica, I do believe we’re now goin’ steady.” He smiled again and I threw my arms around his neck, proud that he was filthy, stinkin’ Rich.
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